It has been a year since my appendectomy. Just approaching the anniversary of this surgery has caused a resurgence of some PTSD symptoms. It seems odd, I know, that the removal of a shit-filter the size of a baby's index finger could cause so much trouble. I mean, I've had so many surgeries and complicated medical procedures—even gave birth to twins without any drugs in the ol' spine tap—but the actual circumstances of the surgery, and the aftermath ... Well, it broke me for awhile. It just goes to show you that people can endure the physical but combine that pain with intense psychological stress, personal attacks, and a bottomless sense of helplessness—that's the trauma turducken, folks.
(Showing off my new belly button. It's my favourite one so far, actually. The baby surgeon had a knack.)
Everyday, I see people facing tragedy and pain. I also see those on the periphery asking: “What can I do? What's the right thing to say?”
I can't speak for everyone (and there are far too many people doing that lately to want to add to that noise). Everyone's needs are different. After a long history of being at the centre of enduring, chronic pain, I do know one of the simpler answers to those questions: be present, let people know they aren't alone. You know what's worse than having a debilitating genetic disorder that makes every surgery a serious one? Facing it alone, without a friend or family member present.
Out of all my surgeries, isolation was the main difference. I entered the operating theatre having spent hours alone, without the ability to contact anyone, prior to going in. I refused morphine for as long as I could, so I wasn't a mindless piece of surgical meat that couldn't articulate her own needs. At a certain point, though, they insisted. So, after suffering alone, I was left high as hell and had to be given an intravenous “happy pill” because my 16 year old surgeon felt I “needed it” to get through the experience. I knew that when I woke up, I would be alone, without my phone (because they couldn't guarantee it wouldn't get stolen during my post-surgery opioid haze), and wouldn't have any way of knowing if/when my husband could come pick me up.
I didn't realize until then how important it is to know that someone will be there when you wake up, that someone is making plans to come see you after the surgery is done, that someone is in the actual hospital who knows you, and can advocate for you if something goes wrong.
Thankfully, when he was able, my father came up from down South and helped me and my girls get through the first couple weeks (the docs told me it would take much longer from me to heal and the risk of rupture was high due to my EDS).
After he had to leave to continue caring for my Grandmother, however, that's when my little family hit a breaking point. The circumstances that led to me having to go into my surgery alone are fraught with family drama. It was drama that pre-dated my surgery, my kids, and my even being a part of that particular branch of family. My husband and I had to make some hard choices and set up some boundaries that were quickly stepped over and set on fire in a very public way. Let's just say, being called disgusting, terrible, crazy, and a bad wife and mother on social media while recovering from emergency surgery isn't the best recipe for someone who has experienced abuse in their past.
I started having many of the wonderful symptoms of PTSD: paranoia, insomnia, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts—the usual buffet of bull. For the first time in my life, my therapist started laying down heavy suggestions that I was not handling things with my usual mix of talk therapy and non-medicinal tools. She was worried. She had a right to be. I was fucked up. I agreed that if aversion therapy didn't work for me, I would finally consent to some medication.
I was lucky. The aversion therapy started to work, and I began the slow climb up functionality mountain. Looking back at the rutted path I can't say I did everything as well as I could this year. I've failed myself, my husband, and my girls many times. However, I haven't stopped moving; I've dragged my partner along when he's needed it, and I've actually allowed him to yank me out of various viper-pits when I couldn't do it myself. We're a cohesive team at this point, tethered together with well-worn lines of loyalty, passion, and a commonality that neither of us recognized until we were pushed apart with enough force.
In a way, I am thankful for the push, despite the pain. When a dubious lid is lifted, it's possible a variety of things can be revealed. If I hadn't felt what it was like to be that lonely and that vulnerable, I wouldn't have known how important it is to be present when people are struggling. I mean, I knew it, in the same way you know it's not a good idea to run through a forest in the middle of winter with no clothing on. There is, however, a big difference between conceptualizing the idea and actually dropping trou and free-nippling it through Algonquin in January.
My drama is infinitesimal compared to the struggles a great many people are going through at the moment. That being said, I think the lesson can still be applied: be there, be present, let people know they aren't alone and that you're there for them. Isolation and vulnerability—they're a potent pair; strong enough to bring people together and destructive enough to demolish the things you thought were immutable.